Positions and Dispositions

On locating and dislocating ourselves and others

Luke Burgis
6 min readJan 22, 2024


Depiction of the assembly and testing of Sputnik, a rocket launched into low-earth orbit by the Soviet Union in October 1957, right around the time Marshall McLuhan coined the phrase “The medium is the message.”

“Here is another thought for you that is very controversial: I don’t see any point in making anything but controversial statements. There is no other way of getting any attention at all. I mean, you cannot get people thinking until you say something that really shocks them, dislocates them.” — Marshall McLuhan

In front of many of the questions that confront me in my daily life, or the attempts by others to get me to “take a position” on things that I have scarcely had time to even think about, I’ll say this: I don’t have a position, I have a disposition.

The right disposition is the fundamental key to good discernment — the way in which you let the truth unfold and reveal itself, and the way in which you train your perception to be ready to receive it when it does.

A good disposition is exactly what Paul describes love to be in the first letter to the Corinthians:

“[It] is patient, [it] is kind. It is not jealous, is not pompous, it is not inflated, it is not rude, it does not seek its own interests, it is not quick-tempered, it does not brood over injury, it does not rejoice over wrongdoing but rejoices with the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.”

A good disposition leads to a position. A good disposition provides the interior freedom necessary to get there.

With the wrong disposition, even the most obvious truth is rejected due to psychological and spiritual blocks. You know what I mean. Have you ever had the courage to tell a friend that a relationship they’re in (whether romantic, or work, or anything else) is dangerous or toxic, only to have them get angry at you for telling them the truth as you see it?

To become dispossessed of the preconceived ideas that prevent us from fully understanding a person, thing, or a situation is the great work of detangling ourselves from a culture that is full of them.

These ideas are easily assimilated without us even knowing it. The Overton window shifts. For instance: a full one-third of Americans under the age of thirty support polygamy. How did that happen?

I’d like to know the disposition behind the position.

Or if you’re a Big Lebowski fan like me: I’m just dropping in to see what condition my condition was in.

Different Layers of Positions

By focusing on disposition over position I am not suggesting one shouldn’t be able to take a strong moral stance, or a position, on clear moral questions.

Some things are absolutely evil, always wrong, and the circumstances don’t change the moral quality of those actions. I can take a position on them very quickly. Euthanasia is one of the things that fall into this category for me, especially in all of its new manifestations under the appearance of “goods”. (Much of modern fertility medicine flirts strongly with eugenics and eugenic consequences, though they are rarely discussed.)

The same is true of generative A.I. — we don’t seem to have even begun the process of asking the serious metaphysical questions that must accompany this type of serious technological development, with consequences that will affect human lives forever. We cannot simply throw in an “e/acc” in our bio, put the foot on the gas, and sort through the irreversible mess that we’ve created later. Yet that seems to be exactly what we’re doing.

I also don’t mean that one should not have a metaphysical position. In fact, I believe that having a metaphysical position — a view about the foundation of reality — is necessary ground on which to have any other position. Everything rests on it.

Understanding requires standing — somewhere, on something.

I stand on a rich tradition that has spent 2,000 years thinking seriously about moral precepts so that I do not have to work it all out from the beginning for myself prior to evaluating what’s going on in the world. To begin with: I’d be incapable of doing so even if I tried. Some truths unfold in history, and they take time to reveal themselves. I cannot lock the door of my room and verify those things through a Cartesian thought experiment.

But the primary distinction to make in regards to positions and dispositions is this: there are different kinds of positions, and they exist at different layers of reality.

We all have a metaphysical position about reality, whether we know it or not (and that’s not to say that it never changes) — but we don’t necessarily need to have a position on whether or not every bill proposed or passed in congress is good or bad. (Unless, of course, that’s your job.) These are foundational layers of reality and more circumstantial things. Let’s call these thick positions and thin positions.

Often, it seems to me that the thin positions are discussed without any reference whatsoever to the thick ones. The thin positions are often subject to changing circumstances, like which political candidate to support in a given year or which team is best positioned to win the Superbowl.1

The total lack of conversation about how surface level positions connect to deeper metaphysical positions in our society has caused me to wonder if we’re headed toward an even greater epistemological breakdown than the one we’re already in.

Getting to Layer Zero

Last spring, I pioneered a radically new class at my university listed as ENT 491: Special Topics in Business (read: “Entrepreneurship 491: Whatever Professor Burgis wants to talk about”), but I nicknamed the class The Layer Zero Project.

In each session, we explored contemporary issues like Elon Musk’s acquisition of Twitter by examining all of the different and interconnected layers of meaning involved: from the business strategy to the cult of personality to the political implications, all the way down to what we would explore as the “layer zero”: the metaphysical truths (or untruths) on which the decision-making rested.

These layer zero issues are the fundamental first principles and base assumptions informing the view or the actions we were considering.

The class involved connecting the lines and pulling the threads that ran beneath the surface-level issues all the way to the metaphysical assumptions on which they were based. As a final project, we explored how one might launch a new Layer Zero venture. What would a “Layer Zero” company or organization look and sound like? How would it operate? How would it really move the cultural and metaphysical needle?

The course was interesting and successful enough that I’m trying to find a way to offer it at least once per year to a broader audience, outside of the university.

It is different with every iteration because the topics and themes change with the whatever is happening in the real world, but the approach — the form of the course, by exploring the Layers and finding the Layer Zero of these issues — is essentially the same. And it’s the method that matters. (So if this is something you’re potentially interested in, I should have an announcement to make sometime later this year.)

In a 1967 speech, Marshall McLuhan said: “Here is another thought for you that is very controversial: I don’t see any point in making anything but controversial statements. There is no other way of getting any attention at all. I mean, you cannot get people thinking until you say something that really shocks them, dislocates them.”

McLuhan leaves us with an unsettling challenge: we must be ready to dismantle assumptions before reconstructing new foundations of truth. Where do we find the wisdom to know the difference?

Or to use the language of thick and thin positions and locations:

Dislocate them how, Marshall?

Joe Pesci, “Am I funny like a clown?” scene from Goodfellas.

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Luke Burgis

Author of “WANTING: The Power of Mimetic Desire in Everyday Life.” Find more at read.lukeburgis.com